BRMCA 2014 Road Report

Winter is the season that the BRMCA gets the most feedback from mountain residents, and the conversation is always about the roads.  The decisions by the volunteers on the mountain who work with the county on when to plow, where to plow, when to salt, when to apply gravel are a series of guesses and judgment calls.  All sorts of factors come to play – the size and scope of the expected storm, ice or sleet or snow, whether it will be on a weekend or week-day, length of weather event, will it get warmer or colder, if its early in our budget season or late in the season.  There is no right answer and plenty of room for Monday morning quarterbacking.

winter-weather-preparednessWe want to set expectations here:  you do choose to live on a mountain with steep roads, narrow curves and shady sections of road that don’t thaw well in the winter.  It snows and we get ice storms on the mountain, worse than the lower elevation areas.  We can’t run big heavy plows like you see on VDOT highways.  We can’t blanket the roads with salt.  Residents do need to choose to have the right vehicle to drive in the winter, when to drive, how to drive, when to put on chains, when and where to park your car.

The winter of 2013-2014 has not produced any large snow events. However, we have been bitten by a few small yet troublesome snow and ice storms which has made this year more problematic than most.

Unlike the asphalted flatlands, our Prince William County-assigned snow contractor cannot place the blade of his plows directly against the surface of our chip-coat. Doing so would risk destroying the chip-coat surface. The result is typically a thin but slick surface which we then apply gravel and salt upon. However, due to the porosity of the chip-coat, we cannot use strong salt solutions. We must use weaker salt that requires traffic to heat the road surface and activate the salt. Further hampering the melting of this thin, slick layer of ice has been the daytime melt which washes away much of the salt and gravel, followed by the evening freeze. This can and has repeated for days until the roads are finally clear.

The board, working as an elected and purely volunteer group, serves as an intermediary between the residents, the county, and the county’s road contractors. Our community has a limited snow removal budget. As such, we carefully weigh the cost benefit of each event and factor in the timing of our mitigation efforts. An example is the early application of gravel being ineffective once covered by freezing rain, hence why we often wait until after an event ends to take action.  We also follow the VDOT guidelines and only start plowing if more than 4 inches of snow is forecast.

In fact, it was not until this winter that the county reversed their decision on the use of salt on chip-coated roads. Prior to this winter, we were not allowed to use salt. Upon review of new research, the county reversed this decision which is why we can now use salt, though in a weak form and in limited amounts.  That’s why our roads don’t look like the white, salt-encrusted roads managed by VDOT.  We can’t douse them in the same manner.  And because this is a first-year, we are learning the limits and effectiveness of this approach.

Those who have lived on the mountain for a while understand the challenges we all face when hit with snow and ice and have learned to mitigate the impact. Such actions include parking at a lower altitude, using chains, and using the gravel barrels throughout the community. Note, you should keep a shovel in your trunk if you want to get the gravel from the barrels to the road surface.

We drove the roads last week to take an inventory of our gravel barrels. This assessment, combined with some resident feedback, led the board to the decision to recommend the county add another roughly 30 barrels. Many of these barrels will allow for two to three at different parts of switchbacks and increase the amount along many of our steepest or shadiest hills from zero to three. This proposal is under review the county and once approved our contractor will install these new barrels and refill the current barrels.

We place resident safety as the number one priority but we live on Bull Run Mountain and despite our best efforts, our roads will remain treacherous longer than the roads in Dominion Valley or Tyson’s Corner or I66. Speaking solely for myself – I have learned to accept and work around this drawback as our community is one that holds countless benefits over the flatland developments.

Please know we are doing our best with the resources we have. Our community board meets at the clubhouse at noon the third Sunday of each month. We welcome residents to attend, provide feedback, and offer alternatives to our existing methods for utilizing our tax levy to remove snow and ice and to maintain our roads.

Glenn Cruickshank, President, BRMCA
Josh Weinstein, BRMCA Roads Coordinator